Both Trump and Modi market themselves, Trump by exposing himself to the media, Modi by using an iconic platform (e.g. the Red Fort) or creating one (e.g. the Patel statue). But in one important respect the two differ. Though often coarse and insulting with journalists, Trump is willing to face them. Modi is not.
Everyone wants to know why time and again Modi fails to rebuke bullies and killers, but no one can ask him. Not, it appears, in Parliament, and certainly not at a press conference, for he hasn’t held any.
Everyone wants to hear Modi’s answers to specific questions on the Rafale deal, but no one can. Modi will happily face a camera but not questions before a camera.
To the long list of crucial questions ducked by him has been added a new one: his reaction to the Hindu Right’s concerted campaign to abolish names with a Muslim flavour, including names of tens of thousands of cities and places.
Surveying the Indian scene for defects that cry out for correction, the Hindu Right’s penetrating thinkers have zeroed in on these ‘Islamic’ names. Mapmakers, post offices, rail, road and air networks, history students, travel and tour agencies, travellers, non-travellers and ordinary citizens may all face inconvenience, but jobs will be created for painters of signs. More important, there will be a consolidation of the Hindu vote behind the BJP and its allies.
Sorry, dear Hindu Right, there will be no such thing. Voters will laugh at the penetrating thinkers and at politicians taken in by them.
Also, while changing names may force a change in government-approved text-books of history and geography, it will not change history. That for centuries India was ruled by Muslim Sultans and Mughal kings will remain a fact.
You cannot obliterate history. You may indeed, if you muster the necessary ill-will and strength, even demolish the Taj Mahal. Or you may, in line with the latest campaign, give the Taj Mahal a new name, e.g. Mukut Bhavan.
You cannot alter history, but you can create a new one. More impressive than removing the Taj would be creating another structure half as arresting and possibly twice as useful.
With consensus or without it, with the Supreme Court’s permission or without it, you may create a grand temple on the ground where the Babri Masjid stood. But two facts will remain true and unalterable. (1) The Babri Masjid was built in the 16th century. (2) It was brought down in defiance of solemn pledges in December 1992. Pleasant or unpleasant, history is history. What happened, happened.
Another question: If all Muslim-sounding names are anathema, will uttering or writing Allah, Khuda, Rahim, Karim, Abdul and Rahman be banned? Will the names of mosques be changed? Why not, finally, a call to change the name of every Muslim in India?
‘Jai Hind’ can in any case be replaced with ‘Vijay Bharat’. The Azad Hind Fauj should be reworded in all history books as the Swatantra Bharat Sena. Subhas Bose’s speeches should be suitably censored.
As for Nehru’s speeches, banning may be simpler than rewriting. Too much Urdu in them. Unfortunately, Sardar Patel’s speeches too, and indeed the story of his life, would need pruning. Why should the world know that on his death-bed Patel recited an Islamic-sounding line from Nazir, Zindagi ka yeh tamaasha chand roz(‘Life’s show is fleeting’), and another from Kabir, Man laago mero yaar fakiri mein (‘My heart is in penury now’)?
Before long, the people of India will get tired of these political journeys to yesterday’s India. At the next opportunity, they may put a stop to this wasteful, irrelevant and absurd side-show, and enable themselves and a new government to return to addressing the India of today and tomorrow.